Crowds of men and women attired in the usual costumes, how curious you are to me! On the ferry-boats the hundreds and hundreds that cross, returning home, are more curious to me than you suppose, And you that shall cross from shore to shore years hence are more to me, and more in my meditations, than you might suppose
Others will enter the gates of the ferry and cross from shore to shore, Others will watch the run of the flood-tide, Others will see the shipping of Manhattan north and west, and the heights of Brooklyn to the south and east, Others will see the islands large and small; Fifty years hence, others will see them as they cross, the sun half an hour high, A hundred years hence, or ever so many hundred years hence, others will see them, Will enjoy the sunset, the pouring-in of the flood-tide, the falling-back to the sea of the ebb-tide.
It avails not, time nor place--distance avails not, I am with you, you men and women of a generation, or ever so many generations hence, Just as you feel when you look on the river and sky, so I felt, Just as any of you is one of a living crowd, I was one of a crowd, Just as you are refresh’d by the gladness of the river and the bright flow, I was refresh’d, Just as you stand and lean on the rail, yet hurry with the swift current, I stood yet was hurried, Just as you look on the numberless masts of ships and the thick-stemm'd pipes of steamboats, I look’d.
These and all else were to me the same as they are to you, I loved well those cities, loved well the stately and rapid river, The men and women I saw were all near to me, Others the same--others who look back on me because I look’d forward to them, What is it then between us? What is the count of the scores or hundreds of years between us?
Whatever it is, it avails not--distance avails not, and place avails not, I too lived, Brooklyn of ample hills was mine, I too walk’d the streets of Manhattan island, and bathed in the waters around it, I too felt the curious abrupt questionings stir within me, In the day among crowds of people sometimes they came upon me, In my walks home late at night or as I lay in my bed they came upon me It is not upon you alone the dark patches fall, The dark threw its patches down upon me also, The best I had done seem’d to me blank and suspicious, My great thoughts as I supposed them, were they not in reality meagre? Nor is it you alone who know what it is to be evil, I am he who knew what it was to be evil, I too knitted the old knot of contrariety, Blabb’d, blush’d, resented, lied, stole, grudg’d, Had guile, anger, lust, hot wishes I dared not speak, Was wayward, vain, greedy, shallow, sly, cowardly, malignant, The wolf, the snake, the hog, not wanting in me. The cheating look, the frivolous word, the adulterous wish, not wanting, Refusals, hates, postponements, meanness, laziness, none of these wanting, Was one with the rest, the days and haps of the rest, Was call’d by my nighest name by clear loud voices of young men as they saw me approaching or passing, Felt their arms on my neck as I stood, or the negligent leaning of their flesh against me as I sat, Saw many I loved in the street or ferry-boat or public assembly, yet never told them a word, Lived the same life with the rest, the same old laughing, gnawing, sleeping, Play’d the part that still looks back on the actor or actress, The same old role, the role that is what we make it, as great as we like, Or as small as we like, or both great and small. Closer yet I approach you, What thought you have of me now, I had as much of you--I laid in my stores in advance, I consider’d long and seriously of you before you were born. Who was to know what should come home to me? Who knows but I am enjoying this? Who knows, for all the distance, but I am as good as looking at you now, for all you cannot see me?
Ah, what can ever be more stately and admirable to me than mast-hemm’d Manhattan? River and sunset and scallop-edg’d waves of flood-tide? The sea-gulls oscillating their bodies, the hay-boat in the twilight, and the belated lighter? What gods can exceed these that clasp me by the hand, and with voices I love call me promptly and loudly by my nighest name as approach? What is more subtle than this which ties me to the woman or man that looks in my face? Which fuses me into you now, and pours my meaning into you? We understand then do we not? What I promis’d without mentioning it, have you not accepted? What the study could not teach--what the preaching could not accomplish is accomplish’d, is it not?
He wrote it after his daughter, Claudia, was born. She is now 19, a student at Sarah Lawrence. Until she noticed the poem while riding the subway and told him about it, he didn’t know he had been chosen.
Don’t take everything about it literally, Mr. Lux said. “Only some of that stuff came true — about cretins and dolts and sweet talkers on their way to jail,” he said.
Just give her time, we said unhelpfully.
“Yeah,” Mr. Lux said with a laugh, “give her time.”